Smoking Math: Some Numbers Fiddling

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Today, I’d like to do a math problem.  Feel free to chime in with alterations, refinements, arguments, and opinions.

— As of 2010, there were 43,300,000 smokers in the US.
— 443,000 die each year due to smoking related illness (49,400 due to secondhand effects)
— In a given year, roughly 50% of smokers attempt to quit.
— Using approved smoking cessation methods, smokers have a 12% chance of successfully quitting.
— Quitting cold turkey (that is, at once, completely and without help) works 9% of the time.
— Every day, about 1000 kids under age 18 begin smoking on a daily basis.
*These numbers come primarily from the CDC and are as accurate as we can reasonably make them.

Let’s assume that these numbers continue as is and walk them forward a bit to see what happens.  So each year we will start with the total smokers left from the previous year.  Then we’ll subtract deaths (ignoring those that died due to secondhand effects).  Halfway between the success rate of quitting cold turkey and that of using cessation aids is 10.5%.  So we will remove 10.5% of the 50% that attempt to quit and succeeded.  Then we will add 365,000 (ignoring the extra thousand for leap years) for new daily smokers throughout the year.  We’re assuming that the 2010 number of total smokers was as of the beginning of the year.

This is in no way a terribly scientific or a statistically sound way of handling the numbers.  It’s entirely likely that growth in population size, trends, and more advanced statistical anomalies and principles will alter our nation’s future smoking rates.  Nevertheless, I’m inclined to believe that this can still be an illuminating exercise.

Here’s the trend as it falls.

As of 2012: 38,857,390 smokers in the US
As of 2013: 36,809,441
As of 2014: 34,869,010
As of 2015: 33,030,451
As of 2016: 31,288,416
As of 2017: 29,637,838
As of 2018: 28,073,916
As of 2019: 26,592,099
As of 2020: 25,188,078

So the trend looks good assuming these numbers hold out.  However, it’s worth recognizing that the death of smokers by the millions is contributing to this declining total. That’s more than 3.5 million between 2012 and 2020 (not including secondhand related deaths).  At this rate, the death of smokers per year outweighs those that quit by 2042–well within some of our lifetimes.

This also doesn’t account for individuals age 18 and older that begin smoking each year (we just couldn’t find it).  As well, at a recent presentation in London, CASAA’s science director said abstinence and quitting programs have yet to prove they can reduce smoking rates at the population level below 20%. This means no matter how far along these stats get, without reduced risk (i.e. smokeless) programs and advocacy, 1 in 5 people will always be smoking in the US.

Again, let’s stress that these numbers are nothing even resembling official or reliable.  They are merely a leaping point for conversation about the state of smoking in the US.

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  1. robovape says

    this is an interesting evaluation… using these numbers, roughly twice as many smokers die every year than quit successfully, possibly underlining one of the primary factors of this trend of less smokers as a function of time… we die faaster than we replensih our ranks? maybe the social push against smoking is starting to take effect and less people are starting… not having the stats on how many adults start smoking every year it’s really tough to call though…

  2. Steve Mitchell says

    Interesting, I would love to see the numbers higher than that.

  3. Johnathan Brown says

    wow crazy stuff. the quit to death ratio sucks 🙁

  4. Karla Lyle says

    Wow! I had no idea almost a half million people die every year from smoking. That is incredibly scary. At least it sounds like smoking is trending down. I think the public’s perception of smoking has really changed. It is no longer cool to smoke which is a good thing.

  5. Amanda says

    Theres one less counting me : )

  6. smoker to vaper says

    Pretty much any numbers from any US government agency are either poorly estimated or just made up to sway public opinions.

    They still continue to feed people the B.S. that smoking causes cancer. Cancer was already around in populations that didn’t even have tobacco. All lung and throat cancer prove is that cancer will attack weakened parts of the body.

    Yet every year they tally cancer deaths to smoking, and I think it just dishonors those we’ve lost to cancer and tries to point the finger.

  7. robovape says

    sadly, part of the downward trend in the number of smokers is a death rate that nearly exceeds recruitment…

  8. Amanda says

    very true robo

  9. Karla Lyle says

    You have to wonder though, Is the number of smokers each year cause they are all dying off. i would not be surprised if that is a big a big part of it.

  10. Mike says

    It is hard to believe so many people die from smoking and it remains to be legal. I am really surprised there hasn’t been a prohibition on tobacco! Not saying it would work, but I am surprised. Big tobacco companies have their hands in a lot of pockets!

  11. saboinia says

    amazing, truley amazing

  12. Adam says

    Always interesting in seeing numerical evidence to support claims. Thanks for the info!

  13. Bob says

    Appalling figures!

  14. RCO67 says

    The numbers, if accurate are astonishing. Tobacco is the only product, when used as intended, that will kill you. Think on that.

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